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Startup Developing Autonomous Delivery Robots That Travel on Sidewalks

We’re pretty sure that delivery drones aren’t going to be a thing anytime soon. The reason that so many companies are breathlessly promising that it’s right around the corner is because having robots deliver stuff to you whenever you want it is a fantastic idea. At first, drones seem like a good idea because flying lets you get to places quickly while avoiding obstacles, and people have been stuck on this idea for years because it would be great if you could actually get it to work.

So far, it hasn’t worked, but that doesn’t mean that robots delivering things shouldn’t happen. And really, do consumers care whether it’s delivered specifically by autonomous aerial drone as long as they get their stuff relatively quickly and don’t have to change out of their pajamas? A startup called Starship Technologies, with offices in London and Tallinn, Estonia, has announced an autonomous delivery robot that promises to do everything that a delivery drone can do (and more), except from the ground and with a realistic chance of actually happening.

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Video Friday: Motorcycle Robot, Paper Plane Drone, and R2-D2 Fridge

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

Humanoids 2015 – November 3-5, 2015 – Seoul, Korea
2015 Robot Film Fest – November 07, 2015 – Pittsburgh, Pa., USA
Asian Robotics Week – November 12-13, 2015 – Singapore
AAAI Fall Symposia – November 12-14, 2015 – Arlington, Va., USA
SF Bay Area Robotics Group Meetup – November 18, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif., USA
ROBOT 2015 - Iberian Robotics Conference – November 19-21, 2015 – Lisbon, Portugal
Robotics Expo – November 20-22, 2015 – Moscow, Russia
World Robotics Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.
IREX 2015 – December 2-5, 2015 – Toyko, Japan
RoboUniverse Shanghai – December 8-10, 2015 – Shanghai, China
RoboUniverse San Diego – December 14-16, 2015 – San Diego, Calif., USA
 

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.

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Forget Siri: Here's a New Way for Robots to Talk

Samantha from “Her.” She was smart, feisty, and sometimes pensive. Sam was easy to talk to and brimming with personality.

The AI from Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie caught our attention not just because it had the knowledge base of a thousand IBM Watsons, but also because conversations with Samantha were like chats with a close friend.

Over the last few years, robot researchers Dr. Crystal Chao and Professor Andrea Thomaz at Georgia Tech have been devising a new way to build humanity and personality into human-robot dialogues. It starts with rethinking the way we talk to machines.

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You Probably Shouldn't Expect City Repairing Drones Any Time Soon

The University of Leeds has been awarded £4.2 million to lead part of a national infrastructure research project in the U.K. with the vision of using small robots to create “self-repairing cities.” The general idea is to create swarms of small robots that will be able to zip around cities, keeping out of the way of people while proactively identifying weak infrastructure and making repairs before anything actually goes wrong.

This award is part of a larger national initiative to explore “how new ways of using robotics and autonomous systems can restore the balance between engineered and natural systems in the cities of the future.” This sounds awesome, and technological optimism is great, but it’s also important to temper expectations with reality, and avoid getting swept up in the hype of a press release. Like, that “of the future” phrase should immediately make you suspicious, because of a.) its rampant overuse in headlines by lazy tech bloggers b.) its inherently nonspecific nature. In other words, if something sounds implausibly good, well, it probably is, especially if there’s not a lot of detail to go along with it.

We do have some details about what the robotics part of this project is going to focus on, and it’s some pretty crazy stuff that we’re guessing is never actually going to happen.

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Video Friday: Origami Drone, Tesla Autopilot Fail, and Crowdsourced Robots

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your Automaton bloggers. We’re also going to start posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here’s what we have so far (send us your events!):

International Conference on Social Robotics – October 26-30, 2015 – Paris, France
AUVSI Unmanned Systems Defense – October 27-29, 2015 – Washington, D.C.
Biorobots: Dissected – October 28, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif.
Humanoids 2015 – November 3-5, 2015 – Seoul, South Korea
2015 Robot Film Fest – November 7, 2015 – Pittsburgh, Pa.
Asian Robotics Week – November 12-13, 2015 – Singapore
AAAI Fall Symposia – November 12-14, 2015 – Arlington, Va.
SF Bay Area Robotics Group Meetup – November 18, 2015 – San Francisco, Calif.
Robotics Expo – November 20-22, 2015 – Moscow, Russia
World Robot Conference 2015 – November 23-25, 2015 – Beijing, China
Dronetech – November 26, 2015 – Bristol, U.K.

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today’s videos.


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Jazz-Playing Robot Could Teach Us About Human-Computer Interaction

Researchers are developing a jazz-playing robot that listens to a human jazz musician and responds, in real time, by playing jazz improvisation.

“Humans tend to think that art is something that only humans can make,” says Benjamin Grosser, a professor of new media in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I’m interested in what the boundaries of that are.”

In other words, is creativity only achievable by humans? Or, can computers also be artists?

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Robot With Tummy Full of Microbes Can Swim in Dirty Water Forever

Robots are better than animals in almost every way. Well, they’re better in some ways, I guess. I mean, robots are occasionally okay at some things. A few things. None of those things are energetic autonomy: the ability to operate continuously and indefinitely without dependence on humans for refueling. There certainly are robots that operate autonomously for long durations, and they’re either feeding off of radioactivity, or they’re relying on solar panels that don’t work half the time. A better option (at least in some situations) might be robots that forage for food like animals do, taking care of their own energy needs all by themselves.

This is only a slightly crazy idea (although at one point it was briefly the craziest idea ever), and fuel cells that are full of living microbes are a real thing. At the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, in the United Kingdom, they’ve been developing a robot called Row-bot that can swim around, harvesting energy directly from the water using a microbial fuel cell as an artificial stomach.

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Tensegrity Robot Could Be Creeping Through Your Ducts Right Now

According to the World Health Organization, there’s a 30 percent chance that the air you’re breathing right this second is terrible, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that terrible indoor air costs businesses $60 billion annually. This is an enormous amount of money: to put it in perspective, it’s something like half of what I assume the annual budget of IEEE Spectrum is.

You can blame this bad air on your heating and air conditioning system, and the fact that you probably have no idea if it’s ever been cleaned. Getting all up in them ducts by hand is an enormous and very dirty hassle which probably involves partial uninstallation of your ceiling and/or roof, or, you could design a cleverly tetrahedral tensegrity robot to do it for you.

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Automaton

IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

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Erico Guizzo
 
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Evan Ackerman
 
 
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Angelica Lim
 

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